Q: What is the difference between a hornet and a yellow jacket?
A: Florida has two yellowjackets: eastern yellowjacket, Vespula maculifrons and the southern yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa. One species of hornet is also present: the baldfaced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata. The baldfaced hornet is actually a yellowjacket. It receives its common name “baldfaced” because it has a black colored body with a white face. Similar to most other hornets, it makes its nest above ground.
In general, the term “hornet” is used for species which nest above ground and the term “yellowjacket” for those which make underground nests. Similar to bees, hornets and yellowjackets are social and live in colonies of hundreds to thousands of individuals. There are exceptions of yellowjackets making above ground nests which compounds the ability to truly make a definite distinction between yellowjackets and hornets. However, the coloration between the yellowjackets and the hornets in Florida are very obvious with the hornet having no yellow coloring on the body.
All three of these wasps are important predators as they kill many insects attacking important landscape ornamental plants. However, nests near homes may prove a source of irritation and concern. If the nests are large or difficult to approach, for example within the walls of a house, the safest procedure would be to hire a pest control operator to eliminate the colony. If you already employ a pesticide service – call them first. However, it is important to note – not all pesticide companies will handle yellowjackets because of their aggressive nature if the alarm pheromone is released.
If you decide to handle the destruction of the nest yourself, please do it after sunset when the wasps are inactive. It is critical to wear protective clothing. Even though the wasps are somewhat inactive at night, if disturbed, the alarm pheromone or scent can alert the hive and all wasps will come to the defense of one. Unlike honeybees, which die after they sting one time, wasps can sting multiple times.
Yellowjackets and hornets are also attracted to sugar sources, such as berries and flower nectars. This can become a problem when the sugar source is a food or drink being consumed by a human. Sweet items like soft drinks, ripened fruits and watermelons attract bees and wasps. Keep these items covered outdoors. Pick fruit as it ripens and dispose of rotten fruits (Koehler and Oi 2003). In school yards, parks, and other community areas ensure lids on trash containers are either secure or able to prevent access by wasps as this potential food source (discarded drink containers, fruit remains, etc.) can attract wasps on a continual basis, leading to stinging incidents. This information was taken from a University of Florida publication titled: “Yellowjackets and Hornets.” https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in238